Sunday, April 14, 2019

Creature Feature: Crabs Rule in Providencia

Sign along the western road announcing the closure for crabs
You might know that Anne is a crab geek, not surprising since she spent nearly twenty years doing crustacean research for the State of Florida. And Chris likes to eat crabs. So, we were intrigued by the signs we saw on Providencia regarding the black land crab Gecarcinus ruricola. Travelling in the Caribbean, you’ve probably seen the holes that these crabs occupy in forested areas, often far from the water, or wondered W.T.F? upon finding a crab claw high up a mountain. They’re also often found in the market or on the menu if you want a taste. The species is nocturnal, and their skittering about in the dark, clicking across a road or rustling through the undergrowth, can be unnerving if you don’t know what it is. Anyway, it’s precisely these wanderings that bring attention to the crab during mating season. Though terrestrial as adults, larval development occurs in the ocean. Adults migrate from the forest to the ocean to spawn, then back to the forest. Initial larval development occurs at sea, then megalopal-stage larvae (looking mostly like little crabs at this point) migrate back ashore and head to the forest. And these are not small migrations; the population on Providencia was estimated at three million. If a road lies between forest and ocean…well, you can imagine the mess. Consequently, from April 1 to July 31, a portion of the road that runs along the western side of Providencia is closed to all vehicles. Since the road around the island is a loop, this means a lot of detouring back around the eastern side of the island. Time-consuming, perhaps, but it’s done for the purpose of conserving the species, which is good thing. They show a film of the black land crab migration at the Lighthouse Café/Cinema/Art House, but we unfortunately didn’t make it. Fellow crab geeks can find detailed analyses of black land crab population biology and reproduction on Providencia and San Andrés in these articles from the Journal of Crustacean Biology. And if you want to feel a little squirmy, check out this video of migrating adult and larval red land crabs (related species) on Christmas Island – not the exact species as on Providencia, but related, and the same general idea.

Crab information alongside the trail to the Peak

Crab migration documentary at the Lighthouse

The black land crab is even featured at a bus stop

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Scooter for a Day on Providencia

Renting a scooter allowed us to reach some beautiful out-of-the-way spots

So, we’d explored sections of Providencia by foot and by bus, but craved the freedom to explore farther afield and on our own time, so we rented a scooter (moto, in the local parlance) for the day. Scooters are the vehicle of choice on Providencia. They vastly outnumber cars, trucks, or vans, their small size no deterrent to multiple passengers. We’d often see whole families – mother, father, several children – balanced precariously (to us) atop the seat and handle bars, or people carrying things like bicycles held out to the side, or large containers on their laps. Once we even saw a woman blithely steering with one hand, an infant draped over her other arm. It all seemed so effortless. It’s not. Anne opted for a helmet, putting her in the tiny minority of riders (and she eventually took it off so as not to conk Chris on the head with it every time we changed speed). We headed out down the eastern road, stopping at Pash Beach, which had been badly eroded by the winter storms. Then we got to Bahia Aguadulce (Fresh Water Bay). Very cute and quaint with many small beachside hotels and restaurants – there’s even a Mr Mac posada! Next stop was Bahia Suroeste (Southwest Bay). Here, the long, sandy beach is dotted with little rustic restaurants where we had a delicious seafood lunch. Seafood is abundant and relatively inexpensive around Providencia – not surprising, given the location – with nary a sign of the usual ubiquitous Caribbean standard, fried chicken. Aboard the moto once again, we sought out what was reputed to be the most beautiful beach on the island – Machineel. After seeking and not finding, then asking directions of several people, we finally made our way there. Just lovely! We had a cold drink (non-alcoholic because…scooter) beneath the palms before heading back to town. The scooter made getting around convenient, but it was just a bit too nerve-wracking for us, so we decided to stick to the bus and our feet.

Colorful hotels in Bahia Agua Dulce...
...and our very own Mr Mac cabanas!

Beautiful Machineel Beach
Waiting for lunch at a beachside restaurant

Seafood was de rigueur at all the restaurants in Providencia, which makes sense for an island! Even better is that it was INEXPENSIVE seafood.

A hillside view down to Southwest Beach